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January 18, 2004

There's Bi-partisan Agreement That the Country is More Divided

Early in the term, "I had high hopes for Bush" changing the tone, said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a voice of civility in Congress. "We were on the high road then, but now I think we've hit an all-time low."

Just this past week, Bush infuriated Senate Democrats and escalated a long-standing partisan feud by making a recess appointment of Charles W. Pickering Sr., a jurist whose nomination had been blocked by Senate Democrats. Also last week, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had collaborated with Bush in drafting the education bill, delivered a blistering speech calling the Bush administration "breathtakingly arrogant," dishonest, "vindictive and mean-spirited." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) fired back that Kennedy's "hateful attack against the commander in chief would be disgusting if it were not so sad."

Democrats blame Bush and his Republican allies in Congress. "President Bush said he wanted to change the tone in Washington, and I think he has: I think it's gotten worse," Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) has said. "I think it's more acrimonious, I think it's more confrontational, I think it's far more bitterly partisan, and I think he has a big share of the responsibility for the fact that it is what it is."

Republicans, though not blaming Bush, generally agree that civility has not improved. "Since the Clinton years, everything has become a shootout at high noon, and there are many fewer mornings in America," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan.

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